Don’t punch the giant in the stomach!

For good academic writing you need to stand, proverbially, on the  shoulders of giants. We do this by citing the sources that we use, thereby giving due credit to the origin of the facts/ideas. However, today I am making a plea: please make sure you indeed are standing on the giant’s shoulders… and not accidentally punching him in the stomach.

How can this happen?

I believe part of the problem is that people tell us that we should ‘spice up our language’ so that the writing is ‘less boring’ or ‘less monotone’…

People do this with the best of intentions; after all, it holds a lot of truth: we should strive to write less boring. However, the ‘spicing up’ should be done very carefully as the verbs you choose can change the meaning of what you write. Consider the following example:

Botha (2011) asserted that…

Did Botha state categorically, did Botha declare, did Botha affirm the statement formally as the truth? Yes, well then one can say “Botha asserted…” No, then Botha might have just said, mentioned, or expressed an opinion, and saying “Botha asserted” yields a false message.

What is the moral of the story? Make sure you understand the verbs you choose and that after your choice the real meaning remains. If not, you may just be punching the giant in the stomach, and not standing on his shoulders. Remember, you can mess up a citation by doing it inaccurately, thereby spreading a false message! Clearly not what a good scientific piece of writing wants to do.

Do you have good examples of verbs being misused? Why not share it with us in the comments?


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